Russia Conducts Largest Navy Exercise Since Cold War As Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin Meet

The U.S. scrambled three F-22 stealth fighter jets from Hawaii on Sunday in an unscheduled flight that may have been in response to the presence of a Russian navy exercise.

The missile-armed F-22 Raptors were launched from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, according to Honolulu's Star Advertiser, as a Russian fleet carried out exercises in what Russian authorities say is the largest naval exercise since the Cold War.

The exercise comes ahead of President Joe Biden's meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are scheduled to meet in Geneva on Wednesday in their first summit since Biden came to office.

The Russian navy exercise is taking place 300 to 500 miles west of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, according to CBS News.

It involves surface ships, anti-submarine aircraft and long-range bombers.

The U.S. scrambled the F-22s on Sunday in response to bomber flights but the bombers in question did not enter the Air Defense Identification Zone and were not intercepted.

A U.S. carrier strike group is located around 200 miles east of Hawaii carrying out a strike group certification exercise. It is led by the USS Vinson. The exercise was planned but moved closer to Hawaii in response to the Russian exercise.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command spokesman Captain Mike Kafka issued a statement to CBS News on the matter on Tuesday.

"U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is monitoring the Russian vessels operating in international waters in the Western Pacific," the statement said.

"We operate in accordance with international law of the sea and in the air to ensure that all nations can do the same without fear or contest and in order to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific. As Russia operates within the region, it is expected to do so in accordance with international law."

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command issued a statement to Newsweek.

"Pacific Air Forces regularly perform air operations in airspace surrounding Hawaii. As a matter of policy, we don't discuss tactics, techniques or procedures used by U.S. Air Force aircraft due to operational security requirements," the statement said.

"The U.S. Air Force is dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and will continue to fly in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law."

Pacific Air Forces confirmed to Honolulu's Star Advertiser that three Hawaii National Guard F-22s were launched on Sunday, but as yet no official explanation has been offered for the launch.

"The 154th Fighter Wing launched two F-22 Raptors from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam at approximately 4 p.m," Pacific Air Forces said. "A third was launched at approximately 5 p.m."

Air Force command based at Hickam told the Star Advertiser that the Federal Aviation Authority had asked U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to "conduct an irregular air patrol and the situation resolved, prompting the fighters and a KC-135 Stratotanker (a refueling plane) to return to base. We cannot discuss further specifics of the situation."

The FAA issued a statement simply saying: "We have a close working relationship with the military."

Biden and Putin are expected to discuss a variety of potentially contentious issues on Wednesday, including cybersecurity and the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Update 6/16/21 11 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add a statement to Newsweek from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

An F-22 Raptor After Refueling
An F-22 Raptor after refueling from a KC-10 Extender off the Queensland coast close to Brisbane, Australia, on July 17, 2019. Three F-22s were launched from Hawaii on Sunday. Chris Hyde/Getty Images